High school students spreading respect

High school students spreading respect

Freshmen at North Providence High School participate in a workshop on body language as part of the school’s annual Respect Day, a series of workshops for 9th-graders to foster respect for themselves and others. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – North Providence High School freshmen learned some valuable life lessons last Friday (before schools were closed down due to the coronavirus) that they can apply inside and outside of the classroom.

During the school’s annual Respect Day, 9th-graders participated in a series of workshops centered on respecting themselves and others.

A section of the school was dedicated to the workshops, beginning with an introduction to Reiki in room 301.

“Emotional and physical trauma can be stuck somewhere in our body,” explained Amanda Kugler, a Reiki practitioner. “Reiki brings the body back into balance and allows the energy to free flow.”

Kugler said she wanted to help students go from “fight or flight” mode to “rest and digest.”

In the room next door, students received an introduction to Kingian nonviolence and conflict resolution, based on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

English teachers Aimee and Jason Ryan, who recently introduced a Center for Peace and Nonviolence at NPHS, led that workshop.

Guest speaker Christina Battista spoke in special education teacher Stacy Pokora’s classroom about living with a disability.

Diagnosed with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, Battista spoke to students about her condition and how she thinks outside of the box to adapt.

“I look different,” said Battista. “I might not have the same attributes but I can do anything you can do.”

Despite doctors doubting she’d go on to walk, talk or live independently, Battista has earned several college degrees, been married 14 years and established a life for herself. “The doctors were wrong, I’m happy to say.”

Battista said she wants to share her story and, “let people know that anyone who has a disability is a normal person … I’m just like you guys. For me, having a disability is not a bad thing. I love my life.”

In the NPHS auditorium, improv actor Neal Leaheey led a workshop on nonverbal communication, demonstrating through games and exercises some ways that people communicate non-verbally using body language – and how to harness it to better communicate.

“You each have a place in this world. You’re constantly finding a place for yourself – even when you sit,” he said, adding that looking down or crossing your arms can send different messages to people. “Remember you can manipulate and change your status at any time by using body language, so try it.”

Back upstairs, English teacher Michael Gianfrancesco led a workshop on diversity in pop culture. For one activity, he asked students to name Marvel characters that are not white, heterosexual males. Students struggled to make more than 10, demonstrating the need for increased diversity.

Gianfrancesco said he was aiming for a lively conversation about the dangers of stereotyping, misunderstanding race/gender/culture and how movies, television, comic books and video games further marginalize communities.

Other Respect Day topics included respect and safety on social media, building empathy, LGBTQ respect and how to be an ally, acceptance of all, recreational reading, and meditation and mindfulness.